Getting back into Underwater Photography with an E-M1
By Thomas Streng
In spring 2014 I decided to go for a dive-vacation, after 10 years not diving at all and I wanted to bring a camera underwater.
In earlier times I had used a Nikonos V camera setup with film. But this time I decided to want the advantages of digital for underwater photography. I own several camera-systems for “land” photography already, including FF-DSLR, rangefinder and micro4/3 as well as a compact RX100. But which was the best system for my underwater needs?
My criteria were:
- A fast AF-system – fishes can be fast
- A fast flash synch – under water you often have a mix of natural light and flash (to get the colors). So if you want to shoot moving subjects with flash you want a fast synch speed
- Good wide-angle lenses – because that’s what you want underwater to keep the distance short between you and the subject
- It should be easy to control underwater – especially fast access to ISO, F-stop, Exp-comp and WB
In the end I decided to use my Olympus EM1 since it seemed like the best compromise for me, offering more speed and options than a compact, but being less bulky and expensive than FF-DSLR and their underwater housings. Also M43 offers nice lenses for underwater use (I have used the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye, the Oly 9-18mm and the Oly 12-40mm). Other great lenses for underwater should be the 7-14mm and the 60mm Macro.
There are a couple of options for EM1-underwater housings. I decided for a Nauticam-Housing: It is solid, has handles included where you mount the flashes, and for my hand size it allows really good access to all important functions. Aquatica, Subal, Olympus and others also offer very nice housings. I included a vacuum valve system. You suck a low pressure in the housing before you go underwater and a green light indicates that the housing doesn’t leak. This gave me some mental “freedom” underwater.I combined the housing with a 100mm glass Dome for the 8mm FE and a 170mm glass dome (ZEN) for using the 9-18mm and 12-40mm lenses.
The 12-40mm is not a typical underwater lens, because most people use either ultra-wideangle, Fisheye or Macro lenses. But for me the 12-40mm in combination with a Dome offers great flexibility. You get 12mm wide-angle which is fine for many things, and you can get pretty close at the 40mm end, close enough for Fish-portraits and other smaller creatures. That’s why the 12-40mm became the lens I have used most often. As flash I used 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1.
Finally we went for our dive trip to Zakynthos, a wonderful Greek Island. You don’t have as many and big fishes as in the Red Sea or on the Maledives, but it’s a beautiful underwater landscapes, many caves and interesting creatures. I did 15 dives during that trip and really enjoyed the time under water. My #1 goal was to enjoy the dives – so getting good images was “just” #2. I mention this because I have met people who told me they were so busy with their camera that they could not really enjoy the dive and underwater environment.
The EM1 in the Nauticam housing has worked very well. I believe m43 is great for underwater photography. It handles quite easy and allows good image quality.
Here are some of the results, I hope you like them. You can find more images here https://www.flickr.com/photos/111665084@N07/sets/72157646745077278/
I encourage every diver who hasn’t been underwater for a longer time: Go out and dive, it´s fun.
Kind Regards, Tom